A sermon by the Rev. Linda S. Harrison
Ash Wednesday; Feb 14, 2018
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The Book of Joel is a response to some unnamed, unidentified catastrophic event. The people have interpreted this event as the Day of God’s Judgment, and hence, the end of the world.
The prophet says, “Not so fast … this may not be the end of the world” and bids the people to return to God by way of fasting, and rending their hearts … not their clothes, but their hearts. The prophet calls the people to reconciliation – the prophet bids the people to recommit to God, to draw closer to God, to rededicate themselves to God.
And no, this will not guarantee that the catastrophe will miraculously just go away. We cannot buy God off by perfectly reciting formulaic words of some mysterious incantation.
And yet, we are called to recommitment and reconciliation – to rend our hearts. Not because of some misguided belief in a prosperity gospel understanding of God that if we believe rightly and act just so, then God will bless us with health, material wealth, and an easy life. No; we are called to repentance and reconciliation for our own spiritual well being.
By rededicating ourselves to God, by recommitting our lives to God, by returning to God through prayer, fasting, and giving of self, we do indeed heal our inner selves. We become whole, as God intended us to be. We begin to live into the image in which God created us.
Rending our hearts is the first step in moving toward our spiritual health and strength – a first step in the journey toward God to which we are continually invited.
Rending our hearts is the act of honest self-examination and reflection. We take an honest account of our lives: what we have done or left undone, what we have said or left unsaid that breaks relationship and wounds God and others.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: God already knows everything in your heart, and your “flawed” humanity notwithstanding, God loves you. Let me repeat that: your flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, God loves you. The accounting and reflection are not for God’s edification, but for our own self-awareness. And let me reiterate, no matter what it is you have done or not done, GOD LOVES YOU. You are not revealing anything new to God; you are being honest with yourself.
In that honesty and embracing the love of God, we come before God in humility and repent. We offer our broken places to God and we ask for reconciliation with God.
I do not like to say that we ask for forgiveness because God’s forgiveness is offered to us freely and continually. One does not ask for that which is freely available. We do ask for reconciliation – that is we ask for healing and wholeness. And we can only ask for healing and wholeness when we are honest with ourselves about what needs to be healed and made whole.
The reconciliation and renewal come when we fully embrace the forgiveness that God freely pours out through grace. That is where we find spiritual wholeness and strength.
Rending our hearts will not guarantee the catastrophe will end or will never come in the first place. Rending our hearts is the first step in the continual process of building our spiritual strength and health, the first step in fostering spiritual wholeness.
In spiritual wholeness, we can better weather the catastrophes and spiritual storms of this life; we can better recognize the needs of others and respond in God’s love and grace.
Note – I said “better weather” and “better respond” … we may be better equipped, but that does not mean perfection, nor does it mean that there will never be any setbacks.
Sometimes life does indeed throw more at you than you can handle. In those times, we call upon the reserves we have stored by nurturing our spiritual well being. If they ever feel depleted, we have community. When our spiritual well being has the flu, we have community who will bring us chicken soup for our souls … except for the vegetarians like me … in that case, I’ll take Ann’s lentil soup.
Be that as it may … Lent is the season in which we are afforded the time and the space and the intention to engage in spiritual disciplines that will indeed bring us to and keep us in spiritual health.
Like Advent, Lent is a season of preparation. For some it is a time to prepare for baptism – a commitment to God in Christ; for others it is a time to prepare to recommit one’s life to God in Christ. For all it is a time to come to spiritual well being for the sake of the world that, as disciples of Christ, we may love, bless, and save the world through God’s awesome love.
And that path to healing and wholeness begins in ashes. It begins with an honest confession of our mortality and our full reliance on God: “Remember O Mortal that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” God created out of the dust … Dust is not a bad thing. Remember O Mortal that you are dust, created by God in the image of God, reliant upon God.
Our spiritual wholeness begins by confessing our reliance in the One Who was, Who is, and Who will be, the One Who loves unconditionally and invites us to health and wholeness in the love of God.
Blessed be God forever.